Articles by: Reed M. Kurtz
Despite Brazil’s reputation as an emerging economic powerhouse, it remains deeply troubled by challenges that threaten its long-term stability and its prospects for becoming a viable leader of the Global South. Questions of land and wealth distribution, extreme poverty, rampant violence and crime, public corruption, and environmental degradation are a few of the most pressing challenges facing the country during an important election year.
On November 29, 2009, Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo was declared the winner of the Honduran Presidential election, collecting 56% of the votes cast. Under ordinary circumstances, the center-right politician's electoral victory in this small, impoverished nation would hardly garner notice from all but the keenest observers of the region's political scene. But for observers in Latin America, where tremendous strides have been made in overcoming the legacy of political violence and military dictatorship - accompanied in many cases by the empowering of popular sectors - what transpired in the run-up to the election created circumstances that were far from ordinary.
In a region where leaders' efforts to reform their nations' constitutions dominate the headlines, one political regime is flying under the radar in its efforts to radically overhaul its foundational political charter. On November 16, an assembly in the Dominican Republic overwhelmingly approved the final draft of sweeping reforms for what may become the most reactionary constitution in the Americas. The constitutional reforms are expected to be officially signed into law by President Leonel Fernández in a ceremony in early December.
On October 9 a United Nations human rights panel issued a warning concerning the presence of contracted foreign paramilitary forces operating inside Honduras. According to the UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, an estimated 40 members of the infamous United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) have been hired by wealthy Honduran landowners to defend themselves "from further violence between supporters of the de facto government and those of the deposed President Manuel Zelaya." As Zelaya's Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas notes, it is widely believed that these mercenaries are being used to "do the dirty jobs that the armed forces refuse to do."